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About the Art: Dirk Funhoff

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is running until 15 January. To celebrate, we talk to photographer Dirk Funhoff about how he captured the birth of a grey seal. 

  • About the Art: Dirk Funhoff, My typical setup for Heligoland. In fact, camouflage is not needed there, but the protection against sand is important for the camera/lens and I need some tough clothing to allow crawling over wet sand
, Petra Funhoff
    My typical setup for Heligoland. In fact, camouflage is not needed there, but the protection against sand is important for the camera/lens and I need some tough clothing to allow crawling over wet sand , Petra Funhoff

Tell us the animals in your photograph, 'First view on earth'.

It was winter on Dune, a small island in the North Sea. Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) give birth on Dune during November – January. The number of pups born on Dune has increased dramatically from around six in 2001/2002 to 316 during last winter.

  • About the Art: Dirk Funhoff, 'First view on Earth', Dirk Funhoff
    'First view on Earth', Dirk Funhoff

Despite the increased frequency of births, to actually observe one during daytime is very rare. Emotions are very high and the experience is beyond words. The pup shown in this photograph is still in its amniotic sac but has opened its eyes already. The first shapes it sees belong to good-willing humans – nature observers and nature photographers – all people who are well-disposed towards it and grey seals overall.

The coexistence of humans and grey seals works very well on the Dune. Tolerance and respect towards the 'largest German predator' is key. Hopefully, it will stay like this in the future.

How did you go about getting that shot?

Dune is an island just close to Heligoland, where one cannot stay overnight during winter. Therefore you need to catch the first ferry at 8am (before sunrise) and you don't want to miss the last ferry at 4pm (before sunset). During the day I normally roam the beaches of the small island taking into account restrictions based upon tide, weather and grey seal occurrence and location (you are asked to maintain a 30m distance although not all seals obey the rule).

In order to photograph a birth you need to be there at the right time – a trivial request, but not easily fulfilled. Firstly, you need to identify a pregnant cow ready to deliver. Once the female decides on a nice birth-place, it will take two - three days until she gives birth.

  • About the Art: Dirk Funhoff, The highly pregnant female at 11am. We hope we can make it, the ferry leaves at 4pm and we need to walk about 20 min from here to catch it, Dirk Funhoff
    The highly pregnant female at 11am. We hope we can make it, the ferry leaves at 4pm and we need to walk about 20 min from here to catch it, Dirk Funhoff

You need to observe those closely and decide where to spend your time waiting. Even with my experience of a couple of winters it is not a sure guess.

Secondly, you need to see whether you can approach without disturbing her. There are large differences in the tolerances of the pregnant females to accept neighbours – not only for humans but towards other grey seals as well. Usually, you want to avoid placing yourself between the cow and the water. In any case I use a long lens to minimise impact, as a longer distance means it is not as disturbing to the seal if I change position.

  • About the Art: Dirk Funhoff, The pup is coming. Here, the amniotic sac is still intact. Time is about 2.55pm - looking good timewise, Dirk Funhoff
    The pup is coming. Here, the amniotic sac is still intact. Time is about 2.55pm - looking good timewise, Dirk Funhoff

In this particular case, we observed the mother-to-be already on the second day. At 11am we thought it was going to happen soon, but it actually took place at 3pm. This particular mother was very tolerant towards us, she even moved during the whole process to get closer to our small group of observers.

  • About the Art: Dirk Funhoff, After birth, it is very important that mother and pup contact each other to learn about the specific smell. They will recognise each other based on the scent. Up to now, there are no large groups of seals with pups around, so normally mother and pup stay close together. After some days some mothers leave their pups in order to catch some fish or simply cool down in the North Sea, Dirk Funhoff
    After birth, it is very important that mother and pup contact each other to learn about the specific smell. They will recognise each other based on the scent. Up to now, there are no large groups of seals with pups around, so normally mother and pup stay close together. After some days some mothers leave their pups in order to catch some fish or simply cool down in the North Sea, Dirk Funhoff

  • About the Art: Dirk Funhoff, After all this labour the mother takes a nap and the baby recognises the observers. Well, not really, this is a picture of the baby turning over on the gravel, Dirk Funhoff
    After all this labour the mother takes a nap and the baby recognises the observers. Well, not really, this is a picture of the baby turning over on the gravel, Dirk Funhoff

Did you use any particular equipment?

Long lens: Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 at 800mm on a Nikon D700 (full-frame), tripod

I strongly recommend using long lenses even if one could come closer to get the picture, it simply minimises the impact on the subject.

Although wide-angle images certainly appeal to many, I would only tackle those remotely controlled for the grey seals.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I would like them to think it is a great image (one that is aesthetically pleasing and creates interest). I would like them to ask ‘what does it show?’ and to try and understand what it is about. It would be great to create a connection with their own knowledge and experience and get people thinking about what they can do to preserve the nature shown in the image.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started in your career?

I am taking nature photography 'seriously' since 2004 when I made my first visit to Lunga (Treshnish Isles, Scotland) together with the first use of a digital SLR. Nowadays I call myself a part-time nature photographer.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

Get a camera you like to operate, get into contact with local nature conservation organisations to learn about locations and wildlife opportunities to be seen where and when and start by ‘recording’ nature to get a feel for it and becoming more able to decide where to concentrate upon.

  • About the Art: Dirk Funhoff, Area close to the birth location - one year before. A little bit of snow shows nicely in the evening sun, Dirk Funhoff
    Area close to the birth location - one year before. A little bit of snow shows nicely in the evening sun, Dirk Funhoff

What are your favourite scenes to photograph?

I like to observe and photograph animals without the need to hide but there are only a few places in Germany or Europe where you can do this. Heligoland is certainly one of them.

Additionally, the whole macro world is open for this as well. Overall, I am very flexible, trying to take advantage of the place and circumstances. Time-wise, I cannot react on short notice so I need to use the opportunities which arise or are given once I am out photographing.

  • About the Art: Dirk Funhoff, Morning view over sea, beach and seals, Dirk Funhoff
    Morning view over sea, beach and seals, Dirk Funhoff

What projects are you working on now?

My main project currently is Hallo Nachbar – Meet Your Neighbours in Rheinland-Pfalz. It is part of the global Meet-Your-Neighbours project started by Niall Benvie and Clay Bolt. Currently, I am focussing on the region Rhineland-Palatinate but will extend it to the south-west of Germany. I created an exhibition together with two nature conservation NGOs. This exhibition will tour for about five years through our region.

You can see Dirk's photograph on display in our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until the 15 January 2017. Find out more about Dirks's work on his website.

About the Art: Jon Langeland

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is running until 15 January. To celebrate, we talk to photographer Jon Langeland about his wonderful picture, ‘Lion love in the rain’.

  • About the Art: Jon Langeland, Lion love in the rain, Jon Langeland
    Lion love in the rain, Jon Langeland

Tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition.

My picture in the exhibition ‘Lion Love in Rain’ was taken in 2011, in Masai Mara during a sudden rain storm. The lions are from the famous Marsh Pride and the male is one of the Notch sons. This photo was taken during the lions’ ‘love week’ when they are mating several times an hour for several days without hunting or eating.

  • About the Art: Jon Langeland, The winning picture, 'Lion love in the rain' (top, left) was taken with Nikon d3S, Nikkor 500 mm with converter 1,4 and F 5,6, 1/80s from a safari car. The support for the lens/camera was the shoulder of friend and photo tour leader, Ole Jorgen Liodden. The other lion pictures in the series were taken under the same circumstances and with same settings, Jon Langeland
    The winning picture, 'Lion love in the rain' (top, left) was taken with Nikon d3S, Nikkor 500 mm with converter 1,4 and F 5,6, 1/80s from a safari car. The support for the lens/camera was the shoulder of friend and photo tour leader, Ole Jorgen Liodden. The other lion pictures in the series were taken under the same circumstances and with same settings, Jon Langeland

How did you go about getting that shot?

We were several Norwegian photographers in the safari 4 wheel drive at a distance of 40 - 50m from the lions. It was raining so heavy when I took the picture that I considered stopping but suddenly I realised that a long exposure time and the heavy rain could give special effects to create some unique pictures.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

As a wildlife photographer, you always wait or hope to get into special situations that result in unusual opportunities. This was one of them. The only problem was that we were ten photographers in three cars taking the ‘same’ picture. But I have seen very few of the pictures from the others and nothing like this.

What would you like people to think about when they see your photograph?

To ‘see’ the beauty of the animals, their surroundings and their interesting behaviour.

To understand that this is something extremely precious and beautiful that we need to take care of.                    

How did you get started with wildlife photography?

I started photographing when I was 12. Then I spent a lot of time on school, education, sailing and becoming a dermatologist. I photographed all through these years but all sorts of subjects and without passion.

In 2007 at an age of 56, I started more actively to travel and photograph. I got a few nice shots that gave me a lot of feedback. I started to show my pictures on Instagram and was very much inspired.

  • About the Art: Jon Langeland, A portrait from South Georgia, Jon Langeland
    A portrait from South Georgia, Jon Langeland

I still work full time as a dermatologist, but in the last few years, I have spent 50-70 days on travelling to photograph wild animals in their surroundings in Africa, Spitsbergen, St Georgia, India, Galapagos, British Columbia, Patagonia and Borneo.

  • About the Art: Jon Langeland, A bear mother with three spring cubs on its back, taken in Geographica Bay in Katmai Alaska, June 2014, Jon Langeland
    A bear mother with three spring cubs on its back, taken in Geographica Bay in Katmai Alaska, June 2014, Jon Langeland

Recently, I have been travelling less in groups and more by myself to try to figure out some of my own projects, combining a little more with landscapes and working with shorter lenses.

  • About the Art: Jon Langeland, This Waved Albatross couple is from Espanola in the Galapagos, the only place in the world where this bird is nesting. Taken in April 2014, Jon Langeland
    This Waved Albatross couple is from Espanola in the Galapagos, the only place in the world where this bird is nesting. Taken in April 2014, Jon Langeland

South Georgia was a fantastic place and gave more variations to my photographs.

  • About the Art: Jon Langeland, King Penguins along the river in St. Andrews Bay, St Georgia, Jon Langeland
    King Penguins along the river in St. Andrews Bay, St Georgia, Jon Langeland

I am working with a couple of different projects, something more with sea mammals and I would also like to go to places where most other people do not go to photograph.   

What are your favourite scenes to photograph?

It is difficult to choose, but the cold places with snow and ice around the animals give beautiful settings.

  • About the Art: Jon Langeland, Jumping Polar Bear, from Spitsbergen 2015, Jon Langeland
    Jumping Polar Bear, from Spitsbergen 2015, Jon Langeland

Most of the time I am out I just think the most amazing place is where I am just then. 

  • About the Art: Jon Langeland, This Blue Landscape was taken in Iceland at Jokulsoron in the summer of 2014, Jon Langeland
    This Blue Landscape was taken in Iceland at Jokulsoron in the summer of 2014, Jon Langeland

You can see Jon's photograph on display in our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until the 15 January 2017. Find out more about Jon's work on his Facebook page.

Nares Hornimani

Artist in residence Joshua Sofaer describes some of the work he has been doing at the Horniman.

‘For the last quarter of 2016, I have been lucky enough to be artist in residence at the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

I have been exploring the Horniman collections as inspiration to create a series of false noses. There are many places to look.

The most obvious is perhaps the Anthropology collection: dance, devil, carnival, and ‘ugly’ masks. Equally, I could turn to the Natural History collection: the spoonbill’s beak, the paleomastodon’s nascent trunk, the nine-banded armadillo’s curled protective shell. Less obvious, but no less inspirational, is the collection of instruments: an orchestral horn false nose, a concertina false nose, of course the nose flute already exists.

I collect false noses. I have hundreds of them. Most are human noses, but I also have witches noses, clown noses, animal noses, and other oddities. I even have a plug nose and a socket nose.

In 2013, I showed a series of 452 self-portraits wearing my false noses at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The thing about this collection is that there is a rapidly decreasing pool of noses to collect. As cosplay becomes more popular and affordable, people are dressing-up more ‘authentically’. The false nose, alas, has probably seen its day.

In an effort to try and add to my own collection, I have started making false noses myself. I have made painted noses, papier maché noses, brass noses, clay noses, cardboard noses, crochet noses, and gold noses. I have recently started a digital Nose Museum on Instagram.

Bang slap in the middle of our faces, the nose is often overlooked. There are odes to beautiful eyes, sonnets on the perfect shape of lips, hair practically has a strand of literature to itself. The nose, however, is often cut off. The nose has a rich narrative potential for the absurd, the comic, the mysterious and at the same time, the entirely knowable. We all have a nose after all. As Dr Seuss reminds us, ‘They grow on every kind of head’.

My personal opinion is that all people can be divided into two categories, those who collect, and those who do not. As a collector myself I am interested in people who collect. Frederick John Horniman (1835-1906) was a collector in the Victorian tradition and on an epic scale. It is, of course, his collection that forms the bedrock of the Horniman collection.

In what used to be the main reception of the Museum, but is now the staff and goods entrance, perched on a pedestal, is a bronze bust of Horniman.

  • Nares Hornimani, The bust of Frederick Horniman, Joshua Sofaer
    The bust of Frederick Horniman, Joshua Sofaer

Nobody seems to know much about it. My hunch is that it was created at the same time as the building, which opened to the public in 1901. It fits too perfectly into its nook to be a later addition. One option is that it is the work of sculptor Frederick William Pomeroy (1856-1924). Pomeroy made a bronze bust of Horniman’s daughter-in-law in 1898, and also a memorial tablet for the Museum. I’m still in pursuit of some solid evidence that confirms or contradicts this theory. (If you know something, get in touch!)

  • Nares Hornimani, A close up of Horniman's nose, Joshua Sofaer
    A close up of Horniman's nose, Joshua Sofaer

In tribute to the man that endowed this fantastic Museum, I want to create a Horniman false nose. And what could be a more fitting material for a tribute, than gold?

After discussing my plans with the conservation team, writing method statements, and making patch tests, I was given the go ahead to make a cast of the nose and moustache area of the bronze bust.

  • Nares Hornimani, Ready for your trim sir?, Joshua Sofaer
    Ready for your trim sir?, Joshua Sofaer

Despite having used the alginate and plaster bandage technique literally hundreds of times to successfully cast faces (most recently on the life mask of another Victorian and Edwardian collector, Henry Wellcome) the process failed. Perhaps I had been over cautious about what materials to use, not wanting to affect the patina of the bronze, but still, I thought it would work. The alginate can sometimes ‘go off’ but the batch seemed fine to me. Anyway, for whatever reason, possibly the cold temperature of the bronze, it wouldn’t release without tearing.

  • Nares Hornimani, A first attempt, Joshua Sofaer
    A first attempt, Joshua Sofaer

I don’t mind admitting that I was pretty embarrassed. After all the efforts to secure the permission and cordon off the area, I felt a bit incompetent. Luckily for me Lindsey Bruce, Exhibitions Officer, and my main point of contact at the Museum, was unperturbed. “We will make it happen,” was her refrain.

It was back to the 4D model shop in Whitechapel to see what other casting agents I could safely use. Armed with a pack of Gedeo Siligum, a silicone based moulding paste, I returned to the Museum to run a test on a bronze scrap. It seemed fine, and Julia Gresson from the conservation team, gave me the go ahead for a second attempt.

Poor Frederick looks a bit miserable having his nose cast.

  • Nares Hornimani, Horniman having his nose cast, Joshua Sofaer
    Horniman having his nose cast, Joshua Sofaer

This time, success! A very good cast that also picked up some dirt, which must have gathered up his nose over the years. Once the cast was off, Julia gave him a good clean.

  • Nares Hornimani, A good cast, Joshua Sofaer
    A good cast, Joshua Sofaer

Taking the mould back to my studio, the next step is to make a wax template. Yes, I know this looks like a school project gone wrong, and yes, that yellow stuff really is Play-Doh. Play-Doh is a great way to build up the sides of a wax mould. It’s cheap, washes off easily, and can form a tight seal.

  • Nares Hornimani, Play-Doh, Joshua Sofaer
    Play-Doh, Joshua Sofaer

After a couple of hours leaving the wax to cool and harden, I stripped back the Play-Doh, and removed the mould. The Horniman nose and moustache wax template stands proudly before me.

  • Nares Hornimani, Horniman's nose template, Joshua Sofaer
    Horniman's nose template, Joshua Sofaer

Now that I had at least one good wax copy, I made a plastic polymer version from the same mould as an insurance.

  • Nares Hornimani, Plastic polymer versions of the nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Plastic polymer versions of the nose, Joshua Sofaer

The next step was to take the template to a metal workshop to have it copper electroformed. Electroforming is a process that builds up a metal surface through electrodeposition. Because wax is not conductive, the area to be electroformed has to be treated chemically with a conductive layer, something like a metal paint. The technical term for the template is ‘mandrel’. The mandrel is then put into an electrolytic bath with a copper solution in it and the copper crystals slowly form around the conductive pattern.

  • Nares Hornimani, The electrolytic bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The electrolytic bath, Joshua Sofaer

A couple of days later I returned to the metal workshop to collect the mandrel. The wax is now covered with a beautiful layer of copper.

  • Nares Hornimani, The copper nose, Joshua Sofaer
    The copper nose, Joshua Sofaer

To get rid of the wax, I simply popped the thing into the oven (130 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes) and let the wax melt out through a wire grid into an aluminium take-away carton.

  • Nares Hornimani, Melting the wax, Joshua Sofaer
    Melting the wax, Joshua Sofaer

Back in the studio, I cut out the shape I wanted, following the natural line of the moustache, punched out the nostrils, and drilled some holes for the thread ties.

  • Nares Hornimani, Cutting out the final shape, Joshua Sofaer
    Cutting out the final shape, Joshua Sofaer

This is the final shape.

  • Nares Hornimani, The final copper nose, Joshua Sofaer
    The final copper nose, Joshua Sofaer

Then it’s back to the metal workshop for the golden jacket. The copper nose-moustache-combo has to be polished and thoroughly cleaned. The first bath is just washing-up liquid and water; the second running water; the third acid, in which you can see the dirt fizz away!

  • Nares Hornimani, The washing-up liquid and water bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The washing-up liquid and water bath, Joshua Sofaer

  • Nares Hornimani, The acid bath, Joshua Sofaer
    The acid bath, Joshua Sofaer

Then Mr Horniman’s nose is plunged into a bath of gold. In fact, it is just gold dust in a solution, and the process of gold plating is similar to that of electroforming, only much quicker. I tried to distract the technician, asking questions for as long as possible, so that an extra thick layer of gold would make its way onto the surface (only joking). In reality, it’s only a few microns deep. If you rough handle gold plate, you will see what’s underneath.

  • Nares Hornimani, Coating the nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Coating the nose, Joshua Sofaer

And there we have it. One gold Horniman nose and moustache.

  • Nares Hornimani, Gold Horniman nose, Joshua Sofaer
    Gold Horniman nose, Joshua Sofaer

However, I’m not sure it’s quite finished yet. I want to give this nose some kind of totem. One that makes it an object worthy of the taxonomic principles that form Horniman’s collection and which that collection helped to create.

There are several species to which Horniman lent his name. This happened when entomologists were invited to survey Horniman’s collections. Although Horniman did go on big world travels later in his life and brought crate loads of stuff back to the UK, most of his early collections were purchased through intermediaries. Someone goes off to Africa and collects a bunch of specimens, brings them back to London, and Horniman buys them at auction, for example. He would then welcome experts to look at what he had amassed. Specimens include a moth, Eusemia hornimani, (now Heraclia hornimani), a true bug, Tesserotoma hornimani, and the ‘Horniman beetle’, Ceratorhina hornimani (now Cyprolais hornimani), from Cameroon, described by naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates in 1877.

  • Nares Hornimani, Species to which Horniman gave his name, Joshua Sofaer
    Species to which Horniman gave his name, Joshua Sofaer

Perhaps the most beautiful species named after Horniman is the ‘Horniman Swallowtail’, Papilio hornimani, known only from the northern forests of Tanzania and the southern hills of Kenya. As Jo Hatton, Keeper of Natural explained to me, it was identified by Victorian entomologist W L Distant in 1879, when he was looking through Horniman’s vast collection of butterflies.

  • Nares Hornimani, This is the original specimen that Distant 'discovered', Joshua Sofaer
    This is the original specimen that Distant 'discovered', Joshua Sofaer

As an aside, if you’ve ever wondered how all those Victorian insects were pinned at just the right height, Jo showed me the entomologist’s ‘Pinning Stage’, a metal block that is used to set the specimens and their labels at a consistent height on the mounting pin. You pin the specimen, pick which height you want, and push the pin into the stage. By using the same hole each time, the specimens will always be at the same height.

  • Nares Hornimani, Pinning stage, Joshua Sofaer
    Pinning stage, Joshua Sofaer

Here is the defining Papilio hornimani on its original pin, with two labels beneath the butterfly.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

It is almost always the open wings of the butterfly that we see pinned up, because they are traditionally seen as the most pretty, the reverse side, which is, I suppose, more commonly seen in nature as the butterfly sits on vegetation, have their own muted beauty. The Papilio hornimani is made up of soft dusty browns, greys and creams.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

As you might expect, over the years, the Horniman Museum has acquired many examples of its lepidopterous namesake.

  • Nares Hornimani, Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer
    Papilio hornimani, Joshua Sofaer

Where does all this fit into Horniman’s gold nose? Well, I’m thinking of giving him a Swallowtail nose ring, in the spirit of anthropology. I have drawn out the shape and will soon laser cut a piece of 0.5mm steel, which I will then have plated in gold, to match the nose.

  • Nares Hornimani, Drawing of a Swallowtail, Joshua Sofaer
    Drawing of a Swallowtail, Joshua Sofaer

Horniman fell in love with Japan (as in fact, have I) and so I have ordered a length of ‘kiki himo’ (literally 'gathered threads'), 100% silk braid made by craftsmen in Uji, Kyoto, which is being sent over from Japan, as the string to tie on the nose.

Soon I will be able to reveal Nares hornimani. Watch this space.’

About the Art: Mark Hamblin

Photographer Mark Hamblin tells us about his winning picture 'Mountain hare stretching', which is now on display in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. 

  • About the Art: Mark Hamblin, Mountain hare stretching, Mark Hamblin
    Mountain hare stretching, Mark Hamblin

This photograph is one of a series that Mark took when photographing Mountain hares in the Monadliath Mountains in Scotland.

Mark says of the experience, 'Photographing in winter certainly brings its challenges, the cold making it hard to operate the camera and snow and spindrift making it almost impossible to keep the lens clear.' 

  • About the Art: Mark Hamblin, Portrait of Mark Hamblin, Mark Hamblin
    Portrait of Mark Hamblin, Mark Hamblin

The Monadliath Mountains in Scotland hold some of the highest populations of mountain hares in the UK, the rolling heather-clad hills providing ideal habitat for these hardy mammals. 

  • About the Art: Mark Hamblin, The Monadliath Mountains in Scotland, Mark Hamblin
    The Monadliath Mountains in Scotland, Mark Hamblin

Mountain hares are well adapted for life in the hills, their thick winter coat keeping them camouflaged and warm in snowy weather.

  • About the Art: Mark Hamblin, Snowy Hare, Mark Hamblin
    Snowy Hare, Mark Hamblin

For most of the day, hares remain hidden in a favoured ‘form’ - a depression or hole in the snow - but are always alert to any possible danger.

  • About the Art: Mark Hamblin, Surprised Hare, Mark Hamblin
    Surprised Hare, Mark Hamblin

You can see Mark's photograph on display in our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until the 15 January 2017. Find out more about Mark's work on his website

Back to books!

One of our Volunteers, Chiara, tells us about her experience in the Horniman Library.

‘I’ve been working as a Librarian in a public library for ten years, back in Italy.

When I moved to London, I lost contact with what had meant so much to me: dealing with the public (especially kids, since I was mostly working in the library’s children section) handling books everyday (the smell of paper...and dust! How wonderful!) and being in daily touch with local communities. At the beginning of my time in London, I felt a little bit lost.

So when I had the opportunity to join the taster session for Volunteers at the Horniman, I was very excited. Somehow I felt I could be again part of something special.

  • Back to Books!, Discovering books in the Horniman Library
    Discovering books in the Horniman Library

I volunteered with Engage for some months and this reminded me of the brilliant curiosity of children. I also took part in the Half Term activities and I could breathe again the happy atmosphere of families playing and learning together. But there was still something missing for me.

Anytime I could, I started sneaking into the Library to help Helen, the librarian, mending the children’s books. When a volunteering role for a library project arose, I couldn’t resist applying. Then the magic happened, I was working again in a library in the reclassification project!

Now, anytime I go to the shelf, pick a book, browse through it and discuss with Helen the most suitable place for visitors to find it, I feel the ‘librarian thrill’ again.

When I handle the ancient books of the special collection, touching them very gently to respect their age and fragility, I feel again as if I was in one of the ancient libraries I used to attend in Rome.

  • Back to Books!, Examining books in the Horniman Library
    Examining books in the Horniman Library

I feel a little bit homesick, but also home again, because if home is where your heart is...well, my heart has always been beating for books.

I have had experience of various different volunteering roles at the Horniman, having also spent some weeks in administration. It has been amazing to experience different and sometimes surprising opportunities, but in the end I’m so very glad that this way took me back to books.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman.

About the Art: Misja Smits

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is running until 15 January. Here, we chat to Misja Smits about her work and her stunning photograph ‘looking for shelter’.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, Looking for shelter, Misja Smits
    Looking for shelter, Misja Smits

Tell us the story behind ‘looking for shelter’.

Looking for toadstools is not always easy. Sometimes I look for days and find nothing worth shooting. However, in the autumn of 2014 on the Wadden Island Ameland this scene asked for my attention. Without even looking through my macro lens I recognised these photogenic toadstools. I like to play with sharpness versus softness and this setting was just ideal.

How did you go about getting that shot?

The setting was already there, all I had to do was to keep the toadstools that were situated in bright sunlight, in the shadow. To do this I used a white umbrella.

I did a little bit of 'gardening' with the soft moss in the foreground. A little pressing of the vegetation here and there makes a great difference when shooting with the macro lens flat on the ground.

The toadstools that I put into the shade turned a little bit blue. The background however which was lit up by the sun turned into a warm light yellow colour. It was obvious for me to focus on the little toadstools and let the big toadstools in the front be a soft sort of 'filling'.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, 'Me working on Ameland with the toadstools. This is a similar situation to the awarded picture of the photo contest. Often I use my umbrella to keep away the sunlight from my main subject. Then the tripod is there to prevent my umbrella from walking away', Misja Smits
    'Me working on Ameland with the toadstools. This is a similar situation to the awarded picture of the photo contest. Often I use my umbrella to keep away the sunlight from my main subject. Then the tripod is there to prevent my umbrella from walking away', Misja Smits

Did you use any particular equipment?

Like almost always when shooting macros, I used my viewfinder because of the low shooting point. Since I have no tiltable screen on my full frame Nikon D610, I am forced to do so. Also, I used a white umbrella to keep my toadstools out of the sun.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, My equipment: Nikon D610, Tamron macro lens 90mm 2,8, Nikon 24-85mm, Tamron 70-300mm, viewfinder, umbrella, flashlight, knee pad, tripod., Misja Smits
    My equipment: Nikon D610, Tamron macro lens 90mm 2,8, Nikon 24-85mm, Tamron 70-300mm, viewfinder, umbrella, flashlight, knee pad, tripod., Misja Smits

What are the difficulties of wildlife photography you face?

One thing is on the creative level. I have to keep myself innovating. This is not always easy since I am very critical about myself. When I notice myself repeating a way of shooting, it is not good enough anymore. This can be quite frustrating, especially when I have no new ideas left at that time.

The other thing is a more practical difficulty. It is hard to find natural areas that are not yet discovered by other photographers. I prefer shooting alone or with my boyfriend Edwin Giesbers. When there are lots of people around, I am unable to concentrate.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I hope they will be surprised and inspired.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, 'A Silver Studded-blue with the last sunlight of the day in the background. In front of the lens there is some vegetation which causes the extra bokeh effect.', Misja Smits
    'A Silver Studded-blue with the last sunlight of the day in the background. In front of the lens there is some vegetation which causes the extra bokeh effect.', Misja Smits

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started in your career?

Photography has always been a part of my life. I started with black and white photography in my early twenties when I developed and printed everything myself.

In 1992 I started at the Art school in Den Haag. In 2002, I started to focus entirely on nature photography and I gradually shot more and more macro photography.

My favourite subjects to photograph are toadstools, flowers and insects. Independently of the subject, I prefer to play with lots of soft bokeh and only a little bit of sharpness in the pictures. It is a challenge for me to 'paint' with light and forms.

  • About the Art: Misja Smits, 'Me sitting in a flower meadow in Italy last summer. Often I forget to take off my backpack when I am so focused to act soon in case of an insect posing for me.', Misja Smits
    'Me sitting in a flower meadow in Italy last summer. Often I forget to take off my backpack when I am so focused to act soon in case of an insect posing for me.', Misja Smits

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

Learn where your heart goes to and try to develop yourself in this one subject. Go back and back to the same subject.

Also, look for pictures from other photographers whenever and wherever you can to get inspired. Enjoy the work of others, but don't envy it.

What have you been up to since the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 competition? What projects are you working on now?

Last winter I worked on my printed portfolio. In my opinion, this is so important. Nowadays, we are used to seeing our digital files on a screen and we forget what the files look like when printed. These prints are important for me to stay in touch with my photos. Also, in case of a digital 'disaster', I still have my prints to look back at.

Now it's winter again, I am sorting out and processing my work shot in the past spring and summer. I have no big projects going on but I am just enjoying the subjects that appear in front of my lens...

See Misja’s work in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until 15 January.

Send us your own wildlife pictures using the hashtag #horniman.

About the Art: Louis Pattyn

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is running until 15 January. To celebrate, we chat to the runner-up of the under 14s category, Louis Pattyn, to talk about his photograph, 'Soaring above the Ice'.

  • About the Art: Louis Pattyn, Soaring above the Ice ,  Louis Pattyn
    Soaring above the Ice ,  Louis Pattyn

Tell us the story behind your photograph ‘Soaring above the ice’.

I visited Gemmi Pass in Switzerland with my father hoping to see a lammergeier (a bearded vulture) for the first time in my life.

We spent long days waiting for one to appear. When it finally did it was much larger than I thought.

We had to wear many layers of clothes as it was bitterly cold at high altitude in winter and I had to try not to get freezing fingers. I had several pairs of gloves over my hands and when we saw the bird approaching in the distance I had to quickly remove the gloves to be able to take a photograph.

What does your close examination of wildlife tell you about human nature?

Despite all the bad things in the news today, this lammergeyer shows that we can do good – it was reintroduced to the Alps after being wiped out by us.

I hope that this photo can show people how beautiful these birds are and maybe it could help to better understand and protect the remaining wildlife

How long have you been a photographer?

About 4 years now.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

Just look at and enjoy your subjects first, then photography will follow.

What have you been up to since the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 competition?

I only take pictures occasionally because I have to attend school but last summer I was lucky enough to photograph different lemur species in Madagascar while travelling there with my parents and brother.

What are your favourite animals to photograph?

I love all kinds of animals but one day I hope to photograph orangutans in the wild in Borneo before they have all disappeared.

See Louis' work in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until 15 January. 

Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer

Christmas is drawing near and we are thinking about the sounds of the festive season. Nothing says Christmas music quite like sleigh bells. We have some wonderful sleigh bells in our Musical Instrument collection that once belonged to the musician Joan Stonehewer.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, The sleigh bells belonging to Joan Stonehewer, now in the Horniman Musical Instrument collection. Object number M5-1987.
    The sleigh bells belonging to Joan Stonehewer, now in the Horniman Musical Instrument collection. Object number M5-1987.

Joan made her living as a ‘concert artiste’ by playing the saw and other novelty instruments including the sleigh bells. Her variety theatre performances were of a type that was very popular from the turn of the twentieth century up to WWII.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, Joan Stonehewer is seen on this postcard at the height of her popularity with her sleigh bells, saw and cello bow and a zither. The inscription in black ink reads, 'with love from Joan'. The saw was specially made for her in c.1930 by Jedson, England. The sleigh bells, made at about the same time, are probably from France.
    Joan Stonehewer is seen on this postcard at the height of her popularity with her sleigh bells, saw and cello bow and a zither. The inscription in black ink reads, 'with love from Joan'. The saw was specially made for her in c.1930 by Jedson, England. The sleigh bells, made at about the same time, are probably from France.

Joan appeared at the Royal Variety Hall and the BBC, performed at dinners, receptions and cabarets and her repertoire included songs such as the "Waltz" by Victor Herbert.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, With Europe teetering on the brink of war, this New Year's Eve 1938 dinner party programme evokes the ambience of a passing era. Held at the Chiltern Court Restaurant NW1, Joan Stonehewer provided the entertainment together with Mahomed Ali. Lending an air of daring exoticism to the evening, he was billed as a Magician, Hypnotist, Pickpocket and the World's Fastest Act. Both Artistes highlight the fact that they have performed before Royalty. The French names for the various dishes camouflage their essential Englishness.
    With Europe teetering on the brink of war, this New Year's Eve 1938 dinner party programme evokes the ambience of a passing era. Held at the Chiltern Court Restaurant NW1, Joan Stonehewer provided the entertainment together with Mahomed Ali. Lending an air of daring exoticism to the evening, he was billed as a Magician, Hypnotist, Pickpocket and the World's Fastest Act. Both Artistes highlight the fact that they have performed before Royalty. The French names for the various dishes camouflage their essential Englishness.

Joan was an extremely successful self-publicist. She had many professional business cards that she would give out to drum up her own publicity and was determined to succeed in her career.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, Four of Joan Stonehewer's business cards. She lived at the given address in Wimbledon from 1939 until 1956 when she moved next door. Clearly enjoying the company of children, she had two of her own for whom she wrote stories. These were later published and read, at her suggestion, on BBC radio. On the back of one of the cards she advertises to perform at children's parties.
    Four of Joan Stonehewer's business cards. She lived at the given address in Wimbledon from 1939 until 1956 when she moved next door. Clearly enjoying the company of children, she had two of her own for whom she wrote stories. These were later published and read, at her suggestion, on BBC radio. On the back of one of the cards she advertises to perform at children's parties.

She made it very clear that she would not stop working when she got married – which was quite an extraordinary thing to do in the 1940s – when she had her wedding photos taken holding her musical saw.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, On her wedding day, Joan Stonehewer and her husband, Henry Townsend, are surrounded by friends and relatives. She married during WWII which explains the number of men in uniform. The presence and prominence of the musical saw conveys her determination to continue in her chosen career: an aim she realised fully.
    On her wedding day, Joan Stonehewer and her husband, Henry Townsend, are surrounded by friends and relatives. She married during WWII which explains the number of men in uniform. The presence and prominence of the musical saw conveys her determination to continue in her chosen career: an aim she realised fully.

After her wedding and in the years to come, variety theatre started to become less popular. As television became more readily available and tastes changed, work was harder to come by.

In the Horniman archives, we have letters Joan received from the BBC showing that she had contacted them about future work – an offer which was politely declined.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, A letter from the BBC responding to Joan's request about future work. The letter also mentions her children's stories she sent in, which were read out on BBC radio.
    A letter from the BBC responding to Joan's request about future work. The letter also mentions her children's stories she sent in, which were read out on BBC radio.

Joan retired from the stage in the early 1960s but she still appeared in a list of The Concert Artistes’ Association in 1968, the year before died.

Much of what we know about Joan was found in documents given to the Museum with the sleigh bells in 1987 by her son, Francis Townsend. It is wonderful to know the story behind the instrument and to learn more about this talented and engaging musician.

  • Playing the sleigh bells: the story of Joan Stonehewer, Listen to Joan Stonehewer play the musical saw in our Music Gallery
    Listen to Joan Stonehewer play the musical saw in our Music Gallery

Visit our Music Gallery to hear a recording of Joan playing her musical saw.

About the Art: Anna-Liisa Pirhonen

Our European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is running until 15 January. To celebrate, we chat to Anna-Liisa Pirhonen about her photograph, 'Eurasian blue tit'.

  • About the Art: Anna-Liisa Pirhonen, Eurasian Blue Tit,  Anna-Liisa Pirhonen
    Eurasian Blue Tit,  Anna-Liisa Pirhonen

Tell us the story behind your photograph ’Eurasian blue tit’.

The winter in Finland is very cold, the sunlight hours are very short in winter and we have lots of snow and ice. These are the reasons why many people in Finland feed the birds in winter.

Winter feeding provided by humans helps many overwintering birds survive into the spring. For example, the blue tit has to eat several times its own weight in food in order to survive the frosty night.

I have my own feeding place in the woods to help birds survive the winter in South Karelia, where I live. This winter I bought two hundred pounds of sunflower seeds and about ten pounds of fat and nuts for the birds.

I visited almost every day in the woods with my camera and took the photos. When I took this photo it was a sunny day but also snowing a little.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

About five years. Suddenly everything was right. The light was beautiful, I saw the colours of the rainbow in the bird’s wings and it was snowing.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

All the beautiful nature is very close to us. You can see examples of beauty in the birds, flowers and insects in your backyard or in the nearest park. Nature is all around us.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife in their local environment?

Go to the nearest woods and start taking photos of your local birds, squirrels and flowers. And then continue to experiment your photography with other animals.

I love to take pictures in my home area in South Karelia, south-east of Finland. I live very near to the Russian border. Interesting animals always appear across the border, for example, yesterday the Siberian accentor (Prunella montanella), which is a small passerine bird in northern Siberia, arrived in South Karelia.

What have you been up to since the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 competition?

I graduated from Helsinki University where I studied Geography and now I am a freelance journalist. I write nature articles for magazines and take the pictures to accompany my articles.

Visit Anna-Liisa's website and see her work in the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition until 15 January. 

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

We delve into the festive traditions and mythology surrounding mistletoe.

Mistletoe, or Viscum album, is a curious plant. It is a ‘hemi-parasite’, meaning it grows on a host tree, from which it takes water and support. Don’t worry though, it causes very little, if any, damage to its host. In fact, it has real value to wildlife - six species of insect are specialist mistletoe feeders, including the rare mistletoe marble moth Celypha woodiana and mistletoe weevil Ixapion variegatum. 

It was often seen as a mystical plant because it seemed to appear from nowhere, with no roots, and stayed evergreen when its host tree dropped its leaves in winter. We now know that its seeds are germinated to its host tree by passing birds and its roots are entwined with its host tree. But this small plant must have seemed magical to people long ago.

The earliest account of mistletoe is from the Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder. Writing in his Natural Histories in the first century AD, he described how Druids thought mistletoe taken from oak trees was sacred. Many modern Pagans still use mistletoe today.

However, mistletoe is seldom found on oaks. It is more likely to grow on trees such as apple, hawthorn, poplar, lime or conifers.

It is a festive tradition to hang up mistletoe around Christmas and New Year and plant a kiss on anyone you find yourself standing next to while beneath it. But why do we do this?

It is said the roots of this tradition stem from Norse mythology. According to legend, the Norse goddess of love and fertility, Frigg, made all living things promise not to harm her son Baldr because she wanted to protect him. However, she overlooked the mistletoe plant because it was so small. Baldr was then killed by an enemy using an arrow made from mistletoe. In some versions, Frigg’s tears land on the mistletoe and turn its berries to white which brings Baldr back from the dead. In gratitude, Frigg reverses the mistletoe’s bad reputation and kisses anyone who walks underneath it as a sign of gratitude.

It wasn’t until Victorian times that this tradition seems to become popular. It is said that a berry would be plucked for each kiss until all the berries were gone.

  • Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?, A hanging bough of mistletoe ,  creativecommons, Loadmaster (David R. Tribble).
    A hanging bough of mistletoe ,  creativecommons, Loadmaster (David R. Tribble).

Five tonnes of mistletoe are sold in the UK every year, most of which are imported from France. Much of the wild mistletoe in the UK grows in the west Midlands around the English/Welsh border. It is not very common in London but we do have some here at the Horniman, in our Gardens. Our boughs are high up in a tree on Meadow Field and our Gardeners are looking into growing them lower down on the trees so they are more visible.

Visit the Gardens and see what other plants you can spot.

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